Expressive Writing: Let go of the past and become your potential

I started journaling when I was 5 years old after my mother gave me my first diary. It was blue and very tiny with a lock. Reflecting on it is emotional because it’s like remembering an old friend. Sometimes it felt like that tiny blue diary was my only friend. I poured my heart and soul into it, using my writing to tell it about when I thought my mom had cancer, when kids at school were mean to me, when I was devastated and furious about poverty and abuse I saw on the news. I could be so confused, so hurt, so angry before and during writing, but I’d always have a newfound sense of clarity afterward. So I kept writing.

It’s no surprise that after my early childhood discovery of my passion for cathartic writing, I became a journalist and counselor. My first journaling experience was over 20 years ago, but I still get that invaluable clarity and self-awareness that has proven to be an encouraging and comforting guarantee after every journal entry or blog post I write. Having had such an uplifting and transformative experience with writing, I found it impossible to not share this blessing of a healing tool with others. I developed a Writing to Heal + Meditation Workshop — a series of lessons on how to combine writing and meditation as a healing modality to unlock power and potential — and began facilitating it at a crisis intervention center I worked for.

Learning that most clients found writing as helpful or more helpful than I did inspired me to study expressive writing and mindful psychotherapy deeper in an effort to improve and further develop my workshop to best suit clients’ needs and foster their personal/spiritual growth. I created this blog to share what I’ve found during my studies, in order to further support and spread the fascinating research that has been done on the benefits of writing and meditation, and the incredibly positive client feedback on these two forms of therapy.

Expressive writing is a relatively new therapy and field of study; its first study was conducted in 1986 by Dr. James W. Pennebakerand his student, Sandra Bell, at the University of Texas, Austin. Dr. Pennebaker asked participants of the study to write about their most upsetting, traumatic experience for 15 minutes per day for four consecutive days. They were encouraged to explore their deepest emotions tied to the event and connect these emotions with other areas of their lives, such as childhood, their relationship with their parents and their current relationships with other people.

Dr. Pennebaker’s and Ms. Bell’s study showed that translating emotional experiences into words changed the way these experiences are stored in the brain. Moreover, the study, and many of the 200+ expressive writing studies to follow, proved that writing about personal experiences helps people improve their physical and mental health, sleep better and raise their grades in school. Perhaps most significantly, however, tying emotions to other areas of their lives revealed to participants for the first time how their traumatic experience is affecting them now. This realization can help clients take necessary next steps toward recovery.

I like to focus my workshops on this realization, as it is the critical point in which clients can effectively begin to unlock their potential and step into their own power. Once the client makes the connection of how a past experience is currently affecting them, they typically have that “ah-ha!” moment of clarity and jump one of the hurdles toward the finish line of self-realization.

Though we may never fully reach this finish line in this lifetime, leaping over stifling hurdles and knocking down uninspiring roadblocks make for a transformative journey. And transformation is what our life’s journey (and the recovery process) is all about. To determine a past experience’s current effect is to identify the root of the problem. Sometimes even the simple act of identifying the issue’s root is enough to let go with grace and move forward. Other times, making this identification will serve as the foundation to an active and mindful plan of how to let go and recover.

When we let go of the restraining grip a past experience has had on us, we make room for our true, highest self to emerge. Within our highest self lies our greatest potential. Thus, writing can help unleash that potential and realize our power within. There are countless ways in which the words on the pages of my tiny blue diary helped me transform into who I am today. Transformation is an ongoing process. Though my self-transformation is nowhere near complete, my continuous writing will no doubt tirelessly reveal more and more of my deepest intuition, assisting me in becoming my highest self one day. It is my hope that you, too, will try writing to become your potential, and that the information posted on this blog can expand your wisdom on your journey.